Extinction rebellion was founded in May 2018 and they were supported with a call to action in October by over 100 academics, they believe in strictly non-violent forms of resistance such as blocking government and business buildings or infrastructure like roads and bridges inspired by figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They regularly hold workshops and teach their activists how to properly conduct themselves in a non-violent manner.
But how successful have their protests been in drawing the attention of both the public and the government? To do this we need to compare with other contemporary and recent protest movements. Lets first turn the clock back to 2011, in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 there were enormous amounts of public disenfranchisement and outrage at the mismanagement and downright illegal practices of both members of the government and various bankers who were subsequently bailed out by the government.
In response to this, movements such as Occupy Wall street in 2011 attempted to try and force the government and corporations alike to act against the growing inequality in the US with slogans such as “we are the 99%” attracting 50,000-100,000 people who marched on Wall street on May Day of 2019. They got the government’s attention but not the way they wanted, the Federal government began keeping tabs on leading figures in the movement and there are claims of thousands being arrested. However after the May day march the movement quickly lost momentum and fell into obscurity not achieving anything of note really.
In Britain there were the anti-war demonstrations in the very early 2000s against the Iraq war and the student protests of 2010 with their London march attracting up to 50,000 protesters even going as far to occupy the Millibank headquarters of the conservative party carrying out widespread vandalism in the building. This however proved to be an error as not only brought the anger of the government it also garnered condemnation from student unions that saw the action as damaging to their cause. After a year the movement seemed to just fizzle out once again not achieving anything really.
In 2015 the People’s Assembly Against Austerity was set up with rather self-explanatory goals wanting an end to austerity and to further equality. On the 16th of April 50,000 – 150,000 people gathered for one of their marches but still yet again the movement seems of fizzled out after achieving nothing and like all the aforementioned groups seemed to make a big song and dance without actually having any of their demands even considered by the government.
Today the main protest movements are extinction rebellion, the people’s vote and anti-trump protests. The people’s vote who demand for a vote on the Brexit deal mainly led by Remainers in the wake of their defeat in the Brexit referendum had gathered 312,000 to 400,000 in March 2019 and in March 2018 the organisers claimed they had gathered 700,000 people at one rally in London yet still a peoples vote isn’t even something the government is considering. Anti Trump protests have gathered whenever he has come to the UK yet they seem only to be there purely to express dislike of the American president not really having any goals themselves
Yet extinction rebellion has never held protests attracting anything near the huge numbers that some of these aforementioned groups have managed yet extinction rebellion has held talks with Michael Gove who has even acknowledged that there needs to be work done towards preventing environmental destruction.
Clare Farrell who works with extinction rebellion said “I was surprised to hear a radical reflection on our economic paradigm from Michael Gove when he talked about how our model is extractive and destructive, and that we need to move to a circular model” In less than a year this movement has made more progress than any of its predecessors and contemporaries with far less numbers. So why is this?
Extinction rebellion’s main demands are total transparency from the government with regards to climate change and the ecological crisis, the government must enact legally binding policy to reduce carbon emissions by 2025 and the establishment of a citizens’ assembly to oversee the changes. The movement operates internationally and has launched protests not just all over Britain but in places like Germany and Australia too.
Dozens of members of extinction rebellion have been arrested since the movement’s inception and on the 15th of April they vandalised and glued themselves to the Shell HQ and on the 25th of the same month they blocked the London stock exchange. They’ve vowed to try and shutdown Heathrow airport in June and July of 2019 with the use of drones.
On paper the numbers would have us believe that any one of these movements should’ve been more successful yet they are not even close. As I see it what extinction rebellion lacks in manpower they more than make up for with their strategy despite Adam Boulton’s assertion that extinction rebellion were “incompetent, middle class, self-indulgent people” that might have some merit regarding individuals however their overall actions and strategy would seem to indicate the opposite.
Extinction rebellion has clear goals and a much more effective strategy of protest than its predecessors. While other movements have been looking merely to gather as many people as possible for some kind of march, extinction rebellion has engaged in active disruption of the system.
By blocking roads, bridges and important buildings they are essentially forcing the government to do something about them otherwise they will continue to be damaged by the movement’s activities but because they engage in largely legal non-violent methods of protest the government cannot just arrest them nor ban them as an organisation leaving them in a precarious position.
Essentially they cannot be ignored or met with condemnation because they are not engaging in large scale damage of property or physically harming anyone while still causing disruptions that though may seem insignificant actually effects the economy and if there is one thing that the government wants secure above everything it is the economy as this helps decide elections.
To summarise extinction rebellion is a movement that is far ahead of any of its contemporaries in both its determination and understanding of how to make the government try and keep you happy and if they stay out of legal trouble and keep applying pressure through disrupting the system they could be well on their way to having at least one of their demands accepted by the government which is more than can be said about almost every other protest movement in the last decade and even more importantly how they will influence future protest movements to come might very well change politics forever.